Shutdown Pessimism Outweighs Vaccine Optimism

Market TalkTuesday, Nov 17 2020
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Energy and equity markets are giving back most of Monday’s gains in the early going Tuesday as shutdown pessimism seems to be outweighing vaccine optimism today. 

New state-wide restrictions are popping up from coast to coast just ahead of one of the busiest travel weeks of the year, which will certainly put some more downward pressure on fuel demand, although the extent remains to be seen. 

After being the weak link in the energy chain for months, distillates have had a strong performance this fall as inventories in several regions dropped to normal levels thanks to a slow recovery in demand and plummeting output from refiners. We can see evidence of that dramatic change in the chart of Midwestern diesel stocks below that shows inventories going from all-time highs in August, to an eight-year-low today. The annual harvest demand peak, and a pull from neighboring states to the West seem to be the major contributors to that rapid drawdown, with W. Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada all finding themselves suddenly short on diesel supply. Cash markets suggest this will be a short-lived phenomenon with steep backwardation into December foreshadowing a recovery in supplies, and the seasonal demand drop, both coming soon.

Reuters is reporting that documents leaked from OPEC’s technical committee make the case for another three to six month extension of the current output cuts. We should find out two weeks from today if that plan is adopted by the cartel.  

See this note for a listing of all the refinery closures/conversions announced around the world so far, which total roughly 1.7 million barrels/day of capacity. The exception to the current refining rule of weak margins appears to be China, as the country’s plants reached another output record in October amidst healthy domestic demand.   

U.S. refiners are not so lucky, and are facing yet another new challenge as the ordered shut down of Enbridge’s line 5 puts more plants in MI and OH at an even greater risk of being unable to operate economically, although it could be a life saver for other refiners in the mid-continent who have the logistics in place to make a home for that newly distressed crude oil coming from western Canada.

The line 5 saga is just one of several pieces of political theater impacting energy markets since the election. RIN values had been on a tear since the renewable friendly Presidential victory was called, but D6 values have pulled back sharply this week after the EPA administrator said RIN values were “out of control” and that the agency would not release RVO targets for 2021 by the Nov. 30 deadline.

In addition, nominations for drilling in ANWR have been opened up, leaving just enough time for potential leases to be signed before the presidential inauguration. The flurry of events in the past few days suggests we are likely to see more moves from the democratically warring factions in the weeks ahead. 

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Market TalkFriday, Apr 12 2024

Charts Continue To Favor A Push Towards The $3 Mark For Gasoline, While Diesel Prices May Need To Be Dragged Along For The Ride

Energy prices are rallying once again with the expected Iranian attack on Israel over the weekend appearing to be the catalyst for the move. RBOB gasoline futures are leading the way once again, trading up more than a nickel on the day to reach a fresh 7 month high at $2.8280. Charts continue to favor a push towards the $3 mark for gasoline, while diesel prices may need to be dragged along for the ride.

So far it appears that Motiva Pt. Arthur is the only refinery that experienced a noteworthy upset from the storms that swept across the southern half of the country this week. Those storms also delayed the first round of the Masters, which matters more to most traders this week than the refinery upset.

Chevron’s El Segundo refinery in the LA-area reported an unplanned flaring event Thursday, but the big moves once again came from the San Francisco spot market that saw diesel prices rally sharply to 25 cent premiums to futures. The Bay Area now commands the highest prices for spot gasoline and diesel as the conversion of 1 out of the 4 remaining refineries to renewable output is not-surprisingly creating disruptions in the supply chain.

RIN values dropped back below the 50-cent mark, after the recovery rally ran out of steam last week. The EPA is facing numerous legal challenges on the RFS and other policies, and now half of the US states are challenging the agency’s new rule restricting soot emissions. That lack of clarity on what the law actually is or may be is having widespread impacts on environmental credits around the world and makes enforcement of such policies a bit of a joke. Speaking of which, the EPA did just fine a South Carolina company $2.8 million and require that it buy and retire 9 million RINs for improper reporting from 2013-2019. The cost of those RINs now is about 1/3 of what it was this time last year, so slow playing the process definitely appears to have paid off in this case.

The IEA continues to do its best to downplay global demand for petroleum, once again reducing its economic outlook in its Monthly Report even though the EIA and OPEC continue to show growth, and the IEA’s own data shows “Robust” activity in the first quarter of the year. The IEA has come under fire from US lawmakers for changing its priorities from promoting energy security, to becoming a cheerleader for energy transition at the expense of reality.

Click here to download a PDF of today's TACenergy Market Talk.

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Market TalkThursday, Apr 11 2024

Diesel Prices Continue To Be The Weak Link In The Energy Chain

Energy prices are ticking modestly lower this morning, despite warnings from the US that an Iranian attack on Israeli interest is “imminent” and reports of weather induced refinery outages, as demand fears seem to be outweighing supply fears temporarily. Diesel prices continue to be the weak link in the energy chain with both the DOE and OPEC reports giving the diesel bears reason to believe lower prices are coming.

The March PPI report showed a lower inflation reading for producers than the Consumer Price Index report, leading to an immediate bounce in equity futures after the big wave of selling we saw yesterday. To put the CPI impact in perspective, a week ago Fed Fund futures were pricing in an 80% chance of an interest rate cut by the FED’s July 31 meeting, and today those odds have shrunk to 40% according to the CME’s FedWatch tool.

OPEC’s monthly oil market report held a steady outlook for economic growth and oil demand from last month’s report, noting the healthy momentum of economic activity in the US. The cartel’s outlook also highlighted significant product stock increases last month that weighed heavily on refining margins, particularly for diesel. Given the US focus on ULSD futures that are deliverable on the East Coast, which continues to have relatively tight supply for diesel, it’s easy to overlook how quickly Asian markets have gotten long on distillates unless of course you’re struggling through the slog of excess supply in numerous west coast markets these days. The OPEC report noted this in a few different ways, including a 33% decline in Chinese product exports as the region simply no longer needs its excess. The cartel’s oil output held steady during March with only small changes among the countries as they hold to their output cut agreements.

If you believe the DOE’s diesel demand estimates, there’s reason to be concerned about domestic consumption after a 2nd straight week of big declines. The current estimate below 3 million barrels/day is something we typically only see the week after Christmas when many businesses shut their doors. We know the DOE’s figures are missing about 5% of total demand due to Renewable Diesel not being included in the weekly stats, and it’s common to see a drop the week after a holiday, but to lose more than a million barrels/day of consumption in just 2 weeks will keep some refiners on edge.

Most PADDs continue to follow their seasonal trends on gasoline with 1 and 2 still in their normal draw down period, while PADD 3 is rebuilding inventories faster than normal following the transition to summer grade products. That rapid influx of inventory in PADD 3 despite robust export activity helps explain the spike in premiums to ship barrels north on Colonial over the past 2 weeks. Gasoline also saw a sizeable drop in its weekly demand estimate, but given the holiday hangover effect, and the fact that it’s in line with the past 2 years, there’s not as much to be concerned about with that figure. While most of the activity happens in PADDs 1-3, the biggest disconnect is coming in PADDs 4 and 5, with gasoline prices in some Colorado markets being sold 50 cents or more below futures, while prices in some California markets are approaching 90 cents above futures.

Severe weather sweeping across the southern US knocked several units offline at Motiva’s Pt Arthur plant (the country’s largest refinery) Wednesday, and it seems likely that Louisiana refineries will see some disruption from the storm that spawned tornadoes close to the Mississippi River refining hub. So far cash markets haven’t reacted much, but they’ll probably need more time to see what damage may have occurred.

Click here to download a PDF of today's TACenergy Market Talk, including all charts from the Weekly DOE Report.

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Market TalkWednesday, Apr 10 2024

Week 14 - US DOE Inventory Recap